Local food entrepreneurs find recipes for successJon’s Gourmet Products

Ever dream that your grandpa’s signature hot sauce might be your recipe for success? While starting any business is no easy task, becoming a food entrepreneur is a special challenge. Find out what makes a food-based venture cook with lessons from some of our most recent Tampa Bay startups.

First in a series

Fresh concept: Jerk smoked turkey, chicken and seafood salad spreads that pack protein and flavor in low-calorie, nutritious prepared meals or snacks.

The dish: A retired firefighter from New York, John Richardson had no special food or cooking background beyond chopping up loads of vegetables at the firehouse and learning about smart grocery shopping by driving his grandmother and aunts to the store. Then one day a friend gave him a piece of jerk smoked turkey, and he decided to experiment by making a salad spread. He took the results to his going away party at Tampa’s James A. Haley Veterans Hospital, where he’d been working as a medical technician.

“I brought samples around to the nurses on the floor, and they all raved about it, saying I should package and sell it,” says Richardson. “That was a Friday. By Monday, my mother was telling me I should contact the small business development center for advice.”

He met with a small business adviser and learned what classes and certifications he needed to get started and launched the business in 2013. So far, Richardson has mainly kept the business a one-man enterprise, with his daughter and nephew pitching in part-time with packaging and delivery. A cousin does his bookkeeping. He’s keeping very busy, working six and a half days a week, cooking batches from home and a rental commercial kitchen as volume has grown from 25 units to over 200 units a week. 

“Everything I make, I sell. I can’t supply enough to meet the demand,” Richardson says. 

While the 20-year firefighting veteran kept his investment to a minimum
Fresh concept: Jerk smoked turkey, chicken and seafood salad spreads that pack protein and flavor in low-calorie, nutritious prepared meals or snacks.
 and relied on his pension to cover living expenses to get started, he says the business now earns enough to support him. Still, “money is not the main objective. I care more about giving people something healthy to eat,” he adds.  

He credits his faith in God for his success, with a special shoutout to Carol Johns, entrepreneurial services manager at the Florida Small Business Development Center in Hillsborough County.

“Carol Johns keeps me moving forward and makes sure I have my ducks in a row,” says Richardson, who meets one-on-one with Johns for business counseling “at least once a month.”

Marketing strategy: After starting out supplying food for business meetings, house parties and family gatherings, Richardson expanded to include sales from his website and at local fitness gyms. He offers free Tampa delivery and ships across the U.S. using freezer packs, a cooler bag and two-day shipping. He’s active on social media, attracting healthy-sized followings on Facebook and Instagram. 

Much of his marketing is word-of-mouth, based on his interests and travel to visit family. For example, his own love of fitness combined with his products’ high protein and low calorie count led to a following among trainers, gyms and other exercise buffs. “I started going to the gym and brought my salad with me. I shared some and they said, ‘Man, that is good, where can we get some?’ “ Richardson says.

His Facebook page documents how he planted marketing seeds along the way to visit his son in Arizona by taking samples to firehouses and spring training camps, where he connected with baseball players from the Los Angeles Dodgers and other teams.    

What’s on the menu: Mild or hot jerk smoked turkey, chicken, salmon and shrimp salads are the main attractions, followed closely by fresh guacamole, pasta chicken and broccoli, and four-bean protein pasta.

Nutritional value: With 4 ounces of smoked turkey salad packing in 28 grams of protein and just 210 calories, it’s easy to understand the appeal among fitness-conscious customers. 

Where to buy: Visit Jon's Gourmet website or call 813-495-2130 to order for local delivery or shipping. 

The next course: Richardson is working to expand production in order to make enough products to supply grocery stores. His goal is to someday be in supermarkets across the country.

Food for thought: I tell everyone who asks for advice to start at the Small Business Development Center,” says Richardson. “First you got to figure out what you want to do. They’ll tell you what classes to take and everything else you need. It’s free. You can’t beat that, can you?”

83 Degrees Media's series on foodie entrepreneurs:
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